We honestly couldn’t tell you what happens in Mute. And that’s not a spoiler warning. Alexander Skarsgård is a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend, Paul Rudd is a black-market surgeon and AWOL soldier, and Justin Theroux is his creepy, paedophilic friend. Their lives interconnect, but to understand how and why would take more rewatches than anyone should have to suffer.
After as little as five minutes, one question looms in your mind: what happened to Duncan Jones? Moon and Source Code were promising starts to any directorial career, thoughtful sci-fi thrillers full of big ideas and lean directing. Then came Warcraft, and now… this.
It’s never pleasant to slam a film by a director as passionate and nice as Jones, but Mute is the work of someone who has taken leave of all his senses. Nearly all the supporting cast are awful and the script from Jones and Michael Robert Johnson is largely incomprehensible, ricocheting between endless scenes of dull exposition and lumbering dialogue.
There are a handful of almost redeeming features to salvage. Jones still has a great eye; he oversees the striking albeit familiar futuristic production design from Gavin Bocquet, and his visual direction is still strong. Skarsgård anchors the film in the lead role, and Paul Rudd offers the only other vaguely likeable performance. Beyond that: a wasteland.
Sometimes films offend because they tackle provocative subjects. Sometimes films are confusing because they explore complicated ideas. Sometimes, they’re just offensive and confusing.
We’re honestly trying to offer something constructive and work out what went wrong with Mute. Maybe Jones just needs to put down the pen, stay behind the camera, and keep an eye on the big picture. Who knows? All we can hope is that he recovers his spark sooner rather than later. Otherwise he may as well stay mute.
CAST: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Robert Sheehan, Noel Clarke, Dominic Monaghan
DIRECTOR: Duncan Jones
WRITERS: Duncan Jones (story & screenplay), Michael Robert Johnson (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Berlin. Forty years from today. A roiling city of immigrants, where East crashes against West in a science-fiction Casablanca. Leo Beiler (Skarsgård), a mute bartender has one reason and one reason only for living here, and she’s disappeared. But when Leo’s search takes him deeper into the city’s underbelly, an odd pair of American surgeons (led by Rudd) seem to be the only recurring clue, and Leo can’t tell if they can help, or who he should fear most.